Christmas is my favorite day of the year. The fact that the NBA has claimed the holiday just makes it even better. When the schedule is released, the first thing I look at is who is playing on Christmas. It is a sign of relevancy and achievement. Last year the Wall/Pierce Wizards made the cut, but the NBA must’ve known something I didn’t because they smartly kept the disappointing Wizards off the slate this time. The Knicks, also conspicuously absent this year, have played the most Christmas Day games of all time, while three teams, the Grizzles, Hornets, and Timberwolves have never played on the 25th. Without further ado here are my picks. Note: the lines for these games have not yet been released so I am making my picks straight up.
Warriors vs Cavs: 5pm, et
The most highly anticipated game of the season pits the historically good reigning champions against the runners-up who held a 2-1 lead while missing two all-stars. We all know how it went: King James fought for Cleveland to the tune of 35.8ppg/13.3rpg/8.8apg, but the Warriors unleashed their nuclear weapon, the death lineup, that has yet to be stopped since. This year the Warriors started 24-0, while LeBron has been sharing the court with the likes of Richard Jefferson and Dante Cunningham. Steph Curry, meanwhile, has fans calling him the best player since Jordan and mathematicians wondering if he’s broken the game of basketball. I wonder how LeBron feels about all this?
James has accomplished so much that he doesn’t need to worry about slights or perception, but I guarantee he does not think of Curry as his better. Wouldn’t we all love to see James go full-out and show up the Warriors on the biggest stage of the regular season? Just how intense he will be is the question. Will LeBron actually take that punch and come out with the goal to send a message? We know what LeBron James with fire in his eyes looks like, and it’s still the scariest ball I’ve seen (Celtics, Pistons, and Bulls fans know what I’m saying). Or will he hold back, not throw his haymaker, and instead enjoy the moment and wait? A Cavs/Warriors finals rematch is the most likely matchup, and LeBron might not want to go all out just yet.
Kevin Love is playing much more consistently than last year and Kyrie Irving is set to return to the lineup tonight (I think… I’m on a plane and don’t really know what day it is). LeBron may prefer to focus on the team and make sure everything is humming instead of coming out in demolish-mode. Oh but if he did…
To me, this game seems more important to the Warriors. They are in such a zone right now that they don’t want to let up at all. They certainly don’t want to lose their probable most-watched game of the regular season. My guess is the Wars will come out with more fire than LeBron will.
Side note: Kyrie’s return should be one of the biggest storylines of the season. If he comes back healthy, the Cavs will win 60 games and James can enjoy having one of the best sidekicks in the league (along with Westbrook, Draymond Green, and CP3). If he struggles to regain form then James will be carrying yet another undermanned Cleveland team, a fate he thought he had avoided.
Miami vs New Orleans: noon, et
I had to make at least one upset pick so I’ll go with Nola. Anthony Davis steps up his play in big moments, as evidenced by last year’s playoffs, beating the Spurs to make the playoffs, his Thunder-beater buzzer-beater, and his increased efficiency in crunch time. If the Pelican’s season continues down this path, this could be their biggest game of the year. The noon game is usually a fun one, and I expect the Cans to look better than their record.
Wade and Bosh have played in their fair share of Christmas Day games by now. That could go two ways: either they won’t have the same adrenaline as other players, or they understand the moment and will put on a show. Give me AD and the Cans in a competitive one.
Thunder vs Bulls: 2:30, et
I have to go with the Thunder here in the battle of underwhelming college coaches. Media haters Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook would love to shut down their critics on national television. Durant has been biding his time a bit this year but seems to be the same player post-surgeries. Westbrook has been a dominant force akin to last year but a bit more reigned in. KD is letting Russell take the lead while playing hyper-efficient ball that is leading to wins. The Warriors, Spurs, and the new and improved Paul George are getting big headlines, but something tells me we’ll be talking a lot more about KD down the home stretch. He knows it’s a long year, and all he had to do this first third of the season was come back healthy. Now that he’s accomplished that goal I can’t wait to see what his goals are in 2016.
As for the Bulls, they’ve been disappointing. 50 wins last year, they’ve taken a step back in the improved East. You know Derrick Rose will take a lot of shots since this is a national TV game, but I can’t bet on it being the one game out of ten that he hits them. Jimmy Butler’s a top five player in the East and Pau Gasol’s a legend, but the Bulls are out of whack.
Rockets vs Spurs: 8pm, et
The Spurs play beautiful basketball, and on Christmas it’s a little extra special. The Rockets I don’t really want to talk about. Dwight Howard has been a major topic of conversation lately and all I have to add is I think he should be a bigger part of the offense–to keep him happy and to keep roles established.
Remember over the summer when people doubted the Spurs and questioned the fit of LaMarcus Aldridge? Those people now look stupid–as all Spur-haters eventually do. LMA is the second leading scorer on the second best team in the league and he hasn’t even been playing great. I don’t know if Kawhi Leonard can maintain his offensive efficiency, but he is unquestionably a top five player in the league (and the best question of nature/nurture we’ve had in a long time). Special thanks to Pop for showing us a team with two bigs still has a place in this league.
Bonus prediction: James Harden takes 25+ shots this game.
Lakers vs Clippers: 10:30 pm, et
It wouldn’t be Christmas without getting to watch some shitty, big-market teams. With no Knicks or Nets this year it is on the Lakers to maintain the tradition. Kobe Bryant’s 15 Christmas Day games played are the most all time, and he will add to that number this year. It should be a fun experience for the young guns–one that most cornerstones of a rebuild don’t usually get.
I have the Clippers ranked as my lowest rated real contender. They cannot be ignored, but they are not yet playing at the level of their assumed peers (GSW, SA, Cle, OKC). They are still working things out, but I’m sure CP3, Blake, and Doc will enjoy putting some hurt on the Lakes.